Breed, protesters clash over tenant legal defense funds

A group of protesters greeted Mayor London Breed’s announcement Wednesday on the City Hall steps of $5.8 million in the city budget to fund eviction legal defense, even as they supported the initiative.

That’s because they felt the mayor cut them out of the announcement of funding for a right to counsel program for tenants facing eviction that was established under June’s voter-approved Proposition F. And that the mayor failed to give them credit for the effort.

The money is included in the already-approved city budget over the next two years and builds on The City’s increased efforts to prevent homelessness.

Members of Democratic Socialists of America’s San Francisco chapter, who gathered to protest Breed, were the organizers behind Prop. F, whose chief proponent was Dean Preston, a tenant rights attorney. Preston is running on a DSA platform in the 2019 District 5 race against Breed’s appointed successor on the Board of Supervisors, Vallie Brown, who joined Breed for the announcement.

Breed herself initially did not support Prop. F and instead put forward competing legislation that would have provided some support for tenant legal counsel, but only for those with lower incomes.

“We had learned about the press conference really late,” said Jennifer Bolen, a DSA member among the protesters. “They announced it kind of in the cover of darkness. We noticed that other groups had been invited but not the organizations that had been on the ground, working on it for almost a year before the ballot measure was passed.” She added, “To ignore all the groups that worked on it is heartbreaking.”

Hours after the announcement, Breed said in a statement: “Today was about funding services to keep people in their homes. When Prop. F passed, there was no funding source and I worked with the Board of Supervisors to rebalance the City’s budget to find nearly $6 million to help pay for this important service.”

The members were also there for another reason. They want Breed to support the “Our City, Our Home” gross receipts tax on large businesses to raise $300 million a year to fund homeless services. The measure, before voters in November, would also generate funding for legal defense services for San Francisco tenants facing eviction.

Bolen said that “we really want her to endorse it.”

“Now that she seems to like Prop. F, how about you help it even more by helping this other measure that’s going to tax the rich to house the poor and also keep people in their homes,” Bolen said. “I hope that when we do get it passed that she’ll have another press conference and maybe at that she’ll give us a little bit of a thank you.”

The gross receipts homeless tax is quickly becoming one of the most hotly contested measures in San Francisco and is opposed by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

On July 17, Breed told the San Francisco Examiner that she had yet to take a position on the tax for homeless services.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at the details,” Breed said at the time. “As soon as I am able to then I will be able to let you know.”

Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of Coalition on Homelessness who organized around the measure, called on Breed to support it in an opinion piece in the Aug. 1 edition of Street Sheet, the coalition’s publication distributed by homeless vendors to earn money.

“Federal divestment from housing created this crisis – the only way Mayor Breed can make a visible difference on this issue and accomplish her stated goals is to replace the lost federal funding at the local level,” Friedenbach wrote. She said that while “our current spending of 3 percent of the city’s budget does a lot” there is a need a do more given the population of homeless residents.

“This will solve homelessness and give her the opportunity to show folks she is independent, prove the doubters wrong, and give her the gift of a whole lot of ribbon cutting ceremonies and definite bragging rights,” she wrote. “It should be a no-brainer. However, some big businesses are opposing it and pushing her hard to oppose it.”

The Mayor’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that Breed continues to examine the homeless tax measure and has yet to take a position.

“Getting people off the street and into housing is Mayor Breed’s top priority, as she has demonstrated by her relentless focus on the issue and the more than $30 million in new investments in this year’s budget,” said a statement provided by the Mayor’s press office. “As Mayor, she needs to weigh the impacts of any new taxes to ensure it doesn’t drive out the last middle class jobs left in the City and undermine the tax base that pays for all the generous services we provide. She is currently assessing the impacts of any new taxes and weighing the potential impact of this proposed tax on the City’s long-term economic health.”

Breed, meanwhile, has begun her campaign for re-election in November 2019, with a fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, which is also her birthday.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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